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Despite zero positive Coronavirus cases so far, Assam steps up efforts to combat the global pandemic on a war footing

Assam Health Minister Himanata Biswa Sarma has been regularly updating the preparedness of the state to tackle the Novel Covid-19 on his Twitter handle.

As India spent the fourth day of the 21-day lockdown, central and state authorities are taking several provisions to contain the spread of Covid-19. Though Assam has not yet recorded a single positive Covid-19 case, the state government has stepped up its preparations to fight highly contagious Wuhan Coronavirus. 

The health authorities in Assam, led by CM Sarbananda Sonowal and health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma have dramatically raised the efforts in this regard in the last week. The state government had already announced a complete lockdown from 6 PM on 24 March, on the same day that PM Narendra Modi announced nationwide lockdown from the next day.

On 26th March, Health Minister Himanata Biswa Sarma announced several measures that the government is taking to prepare for Covid-19. The state government has already started building a quarantine centre at the Sarusojai Sports Complex in Guwahati with capacity for about 700 people. He visited the site earlier today and said that the facility would be ready in a week’s time. The minister also said that there was enough space in the Sarusajai Sports complex to set up an isolation centre for another 1,000 persons. The state government will also rent an apartment complex close to the facility to accommodate at least 200 doctors. If required, another quarantine centre with similar capacity can be built at the Nehru Stadium, he said.

The state is also going to build five temporary hospitals, each costing Rs 40-50 crore, which shall be met with the help of donations from govt agencies, MPs and public and state resources, and will be up and running in two months. “The life of these hospitals is five years as they will be made from prefabricated building material,” he said.

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Although govt had initially planned to hand over the task to Larsen and Turbo, they later decided for an open bid and a notification inviting expression of interest for the same was issued on 28th March. Sarma said that the contracts will be awarded within the next 5 days for building five 300 bed hospitals in 5 different places in Assam, with ICU and ventilator facilities. The hospitals are planned to be completed in 2 months using prefabricated units, and later on, permanent structures will be built for them. He also said the state government was looking to set up hospitals in places where there was no medical college. A site has been already identified at Dibrugarh, while the local admins are looking for suitable places at Guwahati, Silchar, Bongaigaon and Lakhimpur for the remaining hospitals.

Read- As the world grapples with the Wuhan Coronavirus, Taiwan has managed to have things under control despite close proximity to China: Here is how

Sarma also informed that his government is reserving the medical colleges in the state and the govt hospitals in Guwahati exclusively for coronavirus patients. The state health ministry yesterday signed MoUs with 36 private hospitals and nursing homes in Guwahati, to divert other patients to them. The Guwahati Medical College and Hospital have stopped admitting any patient from today, other than maternity and cancer patients as these units are physically separated from the main hospital. Similarly, Mahendra Mohan Choudhury Hospital in Guwahati and Sonapur Civil Hospital near the city have been reserved exclusively for coronavirus patients, except maternity and emergency cases. The private hospitals will treat patients diverted from govt hospitals free of cost under Ayushman Bharat and Atal Amrit Abhiyan schemes.

https://twitter.com/himantabiswa/status/1243773269225824257

“We have extended Ayushman Bharat Scheme of cashless coverage to all persons in Assam going to any of the 36 private hospitals in the city. This will immediately relieve the stress on the government hospitals. Also, all hospitals attached to medical colleges in the State, seven in all, will be converted for COVID-19 treatment only,” he said.

A similar MoU was signed with 27 private hospitals and nursing homes in Dibrugarh today, as the Assam Medical College and Hospital will be reserved only for Coronavirus patients. Other medical colleges will also be reserved in the same way, after agreements are signed with private hospitals in the respective towns to treat the patients of govt hospitals.

New ICU unit set up at GMCH withing a few days

The Guwahati Medical College and Hospital has also readied a new 30 bed state-of-art ICU with ventilation within the last few days. Himanta Biswa Sarma took to Twitter to share pictures of the unit, which have been installed at the new super speciality unit of the GMCH which is still under construction. These beds shall be kept reserved exclusively for COVID-19 patients, tweeted Sarma. Around 20 more ICU units with ventilator are being installed at the GNCH withing next 1-2 days, he informed local media.

The Chabua-based Tata Referral Hospital has already been handed over to the health authorities by its management to run corona-specific treatments. “The challenge for us is to build capacity during this lockdown period, for equipment and hospital beds as well as quarantine facilities,” he said.

The health minister also informed that the final year medical students shall be given a 7-day intensive training on treatment of COVID-19 patients. Final-year nursing students shall be deployed across 6 medical colleges. The government of Assam shall take care of their food, lodging etc.

Himanta Biswa Sarma informed that the govt is preparing enough healthcare workers so that after positive coronavirus case emerged in Assam, each batch of workers can be sent for mandatory 14-day quarantine after working for 7 days. He informed that apart from readying the final year students, the government can also call around 700 doctors serving mandatory 1-year rural posting in various villages in the state to the coronavirus hospitals. The minister said that although many people had suggested, it has been decided not to induct retired doctors for active duty in Coronavirus management, as they belong to the vulnerable group for Covid-19. He said that retired doctors will be asked to provide guidance, training etc, but they will not be involved in treatment.

Explaining how the government is working on a war footing to be ready for the upcoming epidemic, Sarma said that they had sent minister Pijush Hazarika to Delhi to fetch 1,000 masks, so that they are not stuck in the lockdown. Sarma informed that the state has 10,000 personal protection units, nearly 1 lakh N95 masks, and around 13 lakhs three-layered masks in the state.

Earlier in the day, Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal visited Tezpur Medical College where isolation ward has been set up for coronavirus patients.

Though so far, Assam has not reported any case of coronavirus, its neighbouring states like West Bengal and Manipur have reported 15 and 1 case respectively. Mizoram too has reported 1 case so far. There are 4 ICMR laboratories in the state equipped to test for Novel Coronavirus, which are located at Medical Colleges at Guwahati, Jorhat and Silchar, and Regional Medical Research Center at Dirbuargh. These labs have tested more than 300 suspected samples from the state so far, and all of them have been found negative. Apart from them, the state also have collection centres of some private laboratory chains which have been allowed to to Covid-19 test by ICMR.

The total number of positive cases in India as reached 918 with 19 people succumbing to the infection.

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